The Home Edit, is peak pandemic: us trying to control our uncontrollable lives

It’s easy to assume that the otherworldly, syrupy sunniness of the show is why it’s done so well during something as bleak as Covid. Clea and Joanna seem like the kind of women who’d have a “live, laugh, love” poster framed above their beds – but hey, who couldn’t do with a bit of laughing and loving amidst a global pandemic?

Netflix’s new show, The Home Edit, is pop-coloured, feel-good Netflix at its most upbeat. Initially, I thought that’s why it’s been such a hit. It’s what you’d get if Bobby from Queer Eye and Marie Kondo had kids, which were raised by Gwyneth Paltrow in her Goop Lab.

In every episode, Clea and Joanna, founders of The Home Edit, visit the houses of one A-list celebrity and one “normal person”, and re-organise their closets, garages and nurseries. They make Marie look like Scrooge – while they do love a trashcan, they do the rearranging themselves in an Instagram-friendly “rainbow order”, sectioned off into transparent boxes, drawers and turntables.

The show is also a stark reminder of pre-corona times. Every episode involves the pair turning up at clients’ houses unannounced and hugging the subjects, each other and anything in sight. Not very Covid-secure – but perhaps understandable when the first episode gives us the gratuitous throwback of Reese Witherspoon taking us through the ensembles she wore on Legally Blonde.

But I’m not sure the show’s chirpiness is the explanation behind its popularity these last few weeks. Why? Because cleanfluencers like Mrs Hinch have soared in popularity too since Covid hit the scene – as have sales of DIY and cleaning products. It seems more likely to me that as the world outside our front doors becomes unknowable and defies control (we thought we’d have a vaccine by now!), we become more desperate to try and control that which we can – the insides of our houses. And so we scrub, systematise – and tune into shows like The Home Edit, in a manifestation of our anxiety.

The desire to declutter our homes, or “edit it out” as they say on The Home Edit – is a representation of what we want to do with our everyday lives – it would be great if we could “edit out” the virus’s impact on our social lives, being furloughed for months, and not having seen grandma since Christmas. Viewers joke that The Home Edit is OCD porn, but OCD (which the Edit team come pretty close to when Clea melts down over the asymmetry of milk cartons on a fridge shelf), is an unrealistic desire for control in a world full of chaos.

Worst of all, it’s easy to convince ourselves that our need to control our personal space is helpful: Covid is a virus, and so coating our worktops in Dettol can be passed off as a practical, healthy measure. We can channel the FOMO-related anxiety we might have had about nights out, into lockdown anxiety around whether our living rooms are ‘gram-worthy. This is where the Home Edit feels a little Goop-y; in order to get a grip on your many possessions, it suggests you need to buy more possessions (in this case acrylic boxes rather than jade eggs). Plus, a visit from Joanna and Clea costs $250/hr.

Having said all that – I’m not sure The Home Edit is the vice-iest of pandemic vices. They say that a tidy space is a tidy mind, and a lot of the show involves literal compartmentalising (something I’ve dreamed of being able to do with my worries for years); the pair stack items in labelled containers, pushing possessions which won’t be used for a while into “backstock”, out of sight.

The decluttering mirrors a positive, reflective approach many of us have applied to our lives during lockdown – hitting pause has made us think about the parts we do and don’t like. We’ve analysed whether our pay cheque is worth the hours we put in, and which friendships we really value (yes, I binned a couple of friendships which didn’t “spark joy”).

I suspect a dash of The Home Edit isn’t so pathological – it serves as inspiration to tidy up our own lives, and allows us to exert the little bit of control that we need to calm us in a pandemic. Just as long as we don’t freak out over the symmetry of our dairy products.

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